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A Better Way to Prepare New Teachers

Schools of education are criticized for not adequately preparing new teachers for the realities of the classroom. The closest they come to doing so is student teaching. Typically, this means teaching one class a day for two semesters under the supervision of a licensed teacher.

I'd like to propose an intermediate step that schools of medicine use with their new interns. Before interns are allowed to attend to real patients, they practice on artificial ones ("Chicago's Intern 'Boot Camp' Is a Rehearsal for Life or Death Medical Issues," The New York Times, Jul. 15). The rationale is that errors made on the latter do not cause harm to the former.

But I'd go a step further to make the experience far more realistic for new teachers. Why not hire unemployed actors and actresses to play the role of students? They can be given various scenarios: disruptive students, slow students, unmotivated students et al. Student teachers would be asked to teach a lesson before a class populated by these different types. Trained observers would provide immediate feedback upon conclusion of the lesson.

Medical schools report excellent outcomes with interns. I don't see why the same thing can't happen with student teachers. I hasten to emphasize that this strategy is not a substitute for student teaching. Nothing can take the place of teaching students for an entire school year before being licensed. But rather than allow student teachers to learn on actual students by making mistakes, I'd rather see them learn by making mistakes on actors and actresses.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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